Friday, September 03, 2010

Deifying Human Beings?

I have been reading J Lee Grady's book; "The Holy Spirit is NOT for Sale" and must be honest - some of it makes for painful reading. Grady is criticising some of the charismatic movement's excesses in the book - however I must say this. It is easier to accept criticism from someone who is "in the family" (i.e. a charismatic themselves). I have been over familiar with John MacArthur's vitriolic criticisms of all things charismatic for too long and have largely ignored what he said - because the man is a self-confessed cessationist and I doubt has ever had a spiritual experience of God in his life. Grady's criticisms while hard to hear can be more easily understood.

His latest chapter addresses Paul Cain - a well-known and at times controversial servant of God. I found this chapter painful because I know that some of Paul Cain's prophecies have had tremendous impact on churches and people I love - such as Newfrontiers ("changing the expression of Christianity around the world"). Grady had sat in one of Paul Cain's meetings in 1989 and documented and evaluated the prophecies Cain brought and suggested that they were false (such as wondering whether Cain had access to church directories - hence he could quote people's names and addresses).

To be honest - I don't know. I've heard very accurate prophecies quoting names and addresses from people like Paul Cain, Todd Bentley and Joshua Mills at the Glory and Grace Conference in Hong Kong. Could the prophecies they brought have been falsified and made up? Sure. Could they have been of God? I think so. We just don't know. Does that uncertainty nullify the gift of prophecy? NEVER!

Let me say this clearly - it is the most stupid and heinous error to state the gift of prophecy (or any other spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit graciously gives) has ceased - just because of the errors and excesses of some Christians.

But I think Grady brings a really helpful series of recommendations to this issue of servants of God who perhaps display the gifts of God in a less than "perfect" manner. His first point is not limited to the charismatic movement I strongly believe - followers of the "New Calvinist" movement who similarly deify non-charismatics such as Mark Driscoll, John Piper and C J Mahaney;

1. Don't deify human beings.

Grady writes; "Thousands of Christians had put Cain on a pedestal where no man or woman belongs. People expected him almost to be like God. It was a setup for disappointment - and ultimate failure".

I have observed some disappointment and uncertainty creep in with John Piper's very honest decision to take a sabbatical. Some of his "followers" have criticised him and others have wondered if he is in trouble. I wonder what would happen to the loyal SGM masses if C J Mahaney were to fall morally? I know he preaches often about humility and states he is the "worst sinner he knows" but would his followers and SGM survive? The fact is this - these men are ALL human beings. ALL are prone to sin. ALL are prone to mistakes. And ALL have been saved by grace and grace alone. BUT .... ALL can be used awesomely by God.

The genuine words that Paul Cain brought such as "changing the expression of Christianity" are not nullified in my eyes by his humanity. Because that was a word from God to Newfrontiers which they have responded to in faith and is being fulfilled steadily.

Don't abandon the prophetic words brought by human prophets just because they are human and may make mistakes. God is the same - and the word of love He brought still stands.

2. Don't Elevate Anointing over Character.

Grady said; "When Paul instructed Timothy to choose leaders for the churches he had planted, he gave a long list of qualifications. None of these had anything to do with supernatural anointing. Paul did not tell Timothy to choose men who could heal the sick, raise the dead or interpret dreams and visions. In fact the only anointing he required was to teach the Scriptures".

He goes on; "What this shows us is that while spiritual gifts are needed for the advancement of the Kingdom, they don't authorize people to be out front. Just because a person has a powerful anointing doesn't mean they should be given a role of influence in the church".

3. Dismiss the Sensational.

Grady quotes Todd Bentley and the 2008 Lakeland Revival in a critical manner - he clearly does not like Bentley's modus operandi. Again - I found this difficult to read because on the one hand I do agree that Bentley had some unfortunate methods. But I watched the Lakeland Revival avidly during early 2008 and I do believe that God was at work during that time. Some people I greatly respected from Rob Rufus's church in Hong Kong went to visit Lakeland and brought back a "good report" - they're not the kind of people to be swept away by emotionalism. So - let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater - like Paul Cain, Lakeland wasn't all bad.

But Grady's summary was good; "When a carnal man gets involved in the miraculous ministry of the Spirit, he will try to sensationalise it, bottle it and sell it. We should never support this kind of charismatic circus sideshow".

4. Teach and Practice Discernment.

Grady writes; "We cannot avoid deception without the Holy Spirit's supernatural work among us. Discerment is something we learn by experience as our spiritual senses are trained ... Discernment is manifested by a "knowing" - a deep, gut-level sense that something is off-base".

Once again Grady cites the manifestation of gold dust in a critical manner and praises a pastor who allegedly had it tested prior to a meeting and found the gold dust was plastic. Because the said pastor cancelled the meetings where the gold dust was appearing, Grady said the pastor protected the church from "spiritual pollution". Maybe some gold dust is plastic. Maybe some of it is from heaven. I suspect that there are some genuine experiences where gold dust may appear - but from those genuine experiences, stems a desperation for it to appear.

True spiritual discernment does not come from despising anything "odd" - but rather keeping the focus on God. Don't pray for gold dust to appear. Pray for God Himself to be welcome.

5. Enforce accountability.

Grady writes; "Because so many charismatics have left their established denominations and developed a distaste for religious control, we now have the opposite problem. Our movement is too independent ... Ministers who refuse to submit to standards of accountability are spiritual renegades - and God says rebellion is the same as the sin of witchcraft".

Interestingly in another chapter Grady writes disapprovingly of the Shepherding Movement and the call of Ern Baxter and his brothers to see such accountability among churches. So one presumes he sees something of a need for a balance. The Shepherding Movement was roundly condemned - but what Ern Baxter, Don Basham, Charles Simpson and Bob Mumford recognised was that church movements were all shaped like pyramids with "one man" at the head. Their aim was to bring those leaders together in a relationship of accountability. I don't see the problem resolved despite the condemning of Baxter et al's attempt. Newfrontiers has Terry Virgo at the head. SGM has C J Mahaney at the head. Mark Driscoll is at the head of whatever he heads. And so on. These men may protest that there is accountability "within their ranks". But it would be a brave man who would call a C J Mahaney to task - particularly when he has been put where he has by C J Mahaney.

As you may be gathering - I am enjoying the issues that J Lee Grady is raising but don't agree with them all. I don't like some of the examples he uses - but this issue of "deifying human beings" is a vital one.